What is the weirdest place you ever spent the night? I stayed at a Robot Hotel in Japan! And the place next door looked exactly like my home country, only I am more than 9000 kilometers from home… Sounds like I was dreaming, right? But I was not. I stayed at Henn na Hotel Huis Ten Bosch in Sasebo, Japan. Actually I am just checking in, having a conversation with the robot behind the reception desk. Not kidding.
The exterior of the hotel is strikingly discrete; it does not have the futuristic design one may expect from a robot hotel. Except the robot lawn mower and a huge robot that stands at the door, from the outside there is nothing special to see. But after walking through the doors, it becomes clear this is not a standard hotel. A robot plays piano in the lobby and another robot is cleaning the windows.
Three robots stand behind the reception desk: two dinosaurs called Mirai and Yumeko, and one female, human looking robot receptionist called Kibo. Yōkoso, welcome at Henn na Hotel Huis ten Bosch! The robots speak four languages: Japanese, English, Korean and Mandarin. They blink with their eyes and smile at me. I guess people like seeing human traits in robots.
A machine right next to the receptionist desk helps with the check-in procedure, scanning my passport and such. The robots understand basic questions, however the interaction possibilities are limited. So in case the robot does not understand your question, simply rephrase and be patient, or ask one of the human staff members to help out.
Just don’t try to check in earlier than the given check-in time. The receptionist robots will not be able to cope with that question. Cannot blame them; this is an issue all over Japan. At most Japanese hotels you cannot check in earlier than the standard given time as mentioned on your booking confirmation. They are pretty strict on that, even under special circumstances like when you are not feeling well, as I personally discovered in Hiroshima. But no worries: here there is a big robot arm from the automobile industry that can store your luggage (up to 15 kilos) in a storage box for app. EUR 3 per piece. In the meantime, you can enjoy the Dutch theme park Huis ten Bosch that is located just around the corner of the hotel.
I arrived in time, checked in successfully and received my room card. Apparently the trolley robot was busy with other guests. No problem, I prefer to take my own luggage to my room anyway. The room door has face recognition technology too, so you actually do not need a door entry card. The room itself, like the hotel’s exterior, is not spectacular, but it got all I needed: light, spacious enough, comfortable beds, a good shower. The robots of the hotel clean the floor and the windows, however, making up the beds is still a human task. I fully understand; if I were them, I’d refuse that task too LOL
On the night stand there is a lamp-size robot called Churi-chan. Chūrippu is the Japanese word for tulip, which links to the hotel’s Dutch neighbors and vaguely the robot’s shape. Churi-chan can for example turn on/off the lights for you and answer basic questions. An additional screen is connected to the reception desk.
The conversation between Churi-chan and I did not go too smoothly. Although she looks cute, the chemistry was never really there. Maybe it was the language barrier, maybe I expected too much from her. No local tips or anything. Glad I am not a snorer. Read something about her turning the lights on at night when people snore. Now maybe Churi-chan and I are not so much different after all…
Sure, it lacks some human interaction, which normally definitely contributes to a hotel’s value, but this is such a fascinating, funny and unique place!
Huis ten Bosch
It might be good for you to know that Henn na Hotel guests have priority entrance to the next door Dutch theme park Huis ten Bosch. This means hotel guests can get in 15 min earlier than the official opening hours. An easy, comfortable way to skip any waiting lines and get to your favorite attractions first. In addition, Henn na Hotel runs a restaurant inside the theme park, where robots take your orders, prepare certain dishes like ice cream, etc.
Huis ten Bosch is a big Dutch themed park that is definitely worth a day visit at least. OK being Dutch probably makes makes me prejudiced on this one, but trust me, it is fun! I will post another, separate article about Huis ten Bosch the Dutch theme park on this website soon.
Tip: make dinner reservations for the 12th floor restaurant of the nearby Okura Hotel with excellent food and park view, starting at 17:30h. Or end up at the Dog Café.
Henn na Hotel Huis ten Bosch
When I was staying at Henn na Huis ten Bosch, it was only bookable via their own Japanese website. Nowadays Henn na Hotel Huis ten Bosch can be booked on Agoda and Expedia (it’s not on Booking.com).
I paid EUR 115 per night per room including breakfast. Room rates of Henn na Hotel Huis ten Bosch start around JPY 9000 per night, which is quite a bargain for Japan actually. I would recommend staying 2 nights here.
Henn na hotels
In the summer of 2015, Henn na Hotel Huis then Bosch had the scoop of being the first robot hotel around the world. Super cool! If you ask Google Translate, ‘Henn na’ means ‘strange’ but the hotel’s name should be interpreted as different, or change. Different it certainly is, very innovative indeed. Only in Japan! It just completely makes sense this robot hotel is located in Japan, the world leader in robot technology. The Huis ten Bosch location, on the Japanese island Kyushu near Nagasaki, can accommodate almost 150 guests. In-time booking recommended.
Henn na Hotels has the ambition to go international in the future. However, I am not so sure whether that will happen anytime soon, as they recently fired half of the robot staff. This because apparently behind the scenes, the pitfalls of some particular robots caused a lot of extra work for the human hotel staff. As far as I have heard, room robot Churi-chan got laid off, can you believe that?! OK, she was stubborn sometimes, but that really is a pity! Maybe they are re-inventing a new room robot that can also make up the beds? Who knows, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Robot hotels in Japan
Not planning to go the south of Japan? No worries, nowadays Henn na Hotels has actually 10 other hotels with robots spread around the country, of which 7 in Tokyo. I saw room rates starting as low as EUR 35 per night. Go check them out! Also fun for families with children.
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Akasaka, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Asakusabashi, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Asakusa Tawaramachi, Tokyo, Japan*
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Ginza, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Hamamatsucho, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Tokyo Haneda, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Maihama Tokyo Bay, Tokyo, Japan
- Henn na Hotel Kansai Airport Natural Hot Springs
- Henn na Hotel Kanazawa Korinbo, Kanazawa, Japan**
- Henn na Hotel Kyoto Hachijoguchi, Kyoto, Japan
* Open since September 1, 2019 with holographic technology front desk
** This Henn na Hotel can also be booked on booking.com
When to visit
When you want to experience sakura (blossom) in the south of Japan, the best time to visit Huis ten Bosch and its surroundings is probably the second half of March. I was here in the 3rd week of April and the blossom was already gone in this area. You might be lucky more up north. It differs per year though.
The temperature was really pleasant already. Once the sun sets, you’ll need a vest or thin jacket, but during the day it was very sunny with a temperature nice enough to walk around with short sleeves. And the tulips were coming out! I would avoid visiting the area during (national) holidays, Golden Week, around the Olympics and in July/August when it is too hot and/or too crowded.
How to get there
The closest international airports to Huis ten Bosch are:
- Nagasaki international airport (NGS) 1 hour
- Fukuoka international airport (FUK) 2.5-3 hours by train
Henn na Huis ten Bosch and its next door theme park can easily be reached by train. You can travel all the way with the JR Pass. There is also a Fukuoka Airport Limousine Bus line from Huis ten Bosch to Fukuoka airport, which takes about 1 hour and 40 min (costs app. JPY 230), but it is not covered by the JR Pass. There is also a high speed boat service from Huis ten Bosch to Nagasaki airport (50 minutes, JPY 2000) but it is not covered under the JR Pass either and only saves abut 10 min.
Read all about using the JR train pass in the article Japan: what you need to know about the JR train pass.
Huis ten Bosch by JR Pass
First I traveled from Hiroshima to Huis ten Bosch. From Hiroshima to Hakata (Fukuoka) is just over an hour (66 min) by Shinkansen Sakura. Don’t take the Sanya, it is not covered by the JR Pass. From Hakata, I took the Limited Express train Kamome to Isahaya (97 min) and then transferred to the Seaside-liner for Sebo. From Isahaya to Huis ten Bosch JR Station it took about 47 min. So in total, from Hiroshima to Huis ten Bosch is about 3.5 hours by train. From Huis ten Bosch JR Station to Henn na Hotel Huis ten Bosch is a short 10 min walk.
After visiting Huis ten Bosch, I went to Fukuoka to visit a wisteria garden. From Huis ten Bosch to Fukuoka I took the JR Omura Line to Haiki (5 min). And then one way the direct JR Midori to Hakata (Fukuoka), which was about 1.5 hours or slightly more to Fukuoka central station. Or if that’s not going, you will have to take the JR Omura Line from Huis ten Bosch to Isahaya (50 min) and then the Kamome Limited Express to Kahata (1.5 hours).
Besides the other locations of Henn na Hotel as mentioned above, there are definitely more places in Japan where you can interact with robots. In an earlier article Tokyo’s Fun Food Fairytales at themed restaurants and cafes I already wrote about the Robot Restaurant and its overwhelming robot show. In addition, in November 2018 a Robot Café was opened in Tokyo where guests get served by robot waiters that are controlled by disabled people. How cool is that?!
Map Huis ten Bosch & Robot Hotels in Japan
This mobile friendly map includes most things mentioned in this article and more! It is smartphone friendly; you can use it easily via Google Maps. Click on the top left icon to open the menu. To customize the map to your interests, simply (un)select categories. Via Google Drive you can copy it to your folder of My Google Maps.
Going to Japan? I wrote 13 other, detailed articles about it full of tips! Check all my Japan articles in the Japan Blog Archives.
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Have you ever been to Japan? Just writing about it already makes me wanting to go back instantly. What a fantastic country. Beautiful things, crazy cool things, friendly people, delicious food, Japan has got it all. Do you plan on staying at a robot hotel? What is the craziest place you ever stayed at? Share your story or question in a comment below.
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